Friday, August 8, 2008

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

By Eric Denton, Senior Writer

As Angel fans, by now we all know Mike Scioscia’s cliches by heart.

“We just need to square up a couple of balls”

“They (the pitchers) just need to execute their pitches”

Scioscia is right. If the Angels execute their game properly, it’s the other teams that make the post-season that will need to worry about who they’re facing and not the Angels.

If the Halos have one fault this year it could be that they play down to their competition. Baltimore, Kansas City, Toronto, those are the teams that have given the Angels a bit of a problem. Not the teams currently in line for a post-season berth.

Potential October Match-ups

If the season ended today the Angels would have home field advantage and would face the Wild Card winner. Currently, the dreaded Boston Red Sox.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, been in prison or on another planet, all Angel fans we’re elated to see their team finally have a dominant season against Boston going 8-1.

That’s not a typo. The Angels went 8-1 against Boston this year. Really, it’s true.

Boston gave up a 6.88 era against the Angels this year while Angel pitching controlled the Red Sox giving up a 3.88 era against one of the top offensive teams in the league.

Fortune has also smiled on the Angels. After the Angels left Fenway Park (where they completed a second consecutive series sweep) Boston traded the most notorious Angel killer in their line up, Manny Ramirez. Since that deal, David Ortiz’s wrist has feeling started wonky again. With only a 2.5 game lead on the Wild Card, there is a good change Boston could fall out of contention.

This would mean the Angels would be facing either the Minnesota Twins (1-3, 3.75 era vs. LAA) or the New York Yankees (2-2, 5.75 era vs. LAA). With the Yankees coming into Anaheim this weekend and the Angels going to the Twin Cities later this month, those marks could improve.

Looking at the other match up, based on the current standings the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays would take on the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox.

The Angels have a 4-3 mark against the White Sox this year only managing to scrape out 2.66 runs against them. This could be the product of the White Sox facing the Angels during their big offensive drought in May where the club hit an anemic .232.

Tampa Bay is also 4-3 against Chicago this season so that potential play-off match up would seem to be one that may be tight and go five games.

If the Rays get past the White Sox and meet up with the Angels this is going to be a toughest test for the Angels. Tampa Bay is currently 4-2, 3.29 era against the Angels with three more to play.

The Rays are on a roll. They are finding different ways to win every night and are playing a lot like the 2002 version of the Angels. The parallels are easy to make when fans look into the Rays dugout and see former Angels bench coach Joe Maddon and to the bullpen at former closer Troy Percival.

While the Angels are the road warriors of MLB this year with 38 victories, Tropicana Field has historically been a house of horrors for the them.

Praise of the Rays is not written to strike fear in the hearts of Angel fans or to prepare them for a defeat. It’s a sign of respect for a club that is having a terrific year.

However, post-season success will still come down to how the Angels execute their game. It’s completely possible the starting pitching and bullpen may not perform or the hitting could go into a slump.

That said this is the best team Mike Scioscia has managed outside of the 02 team. The rotation lead by John Lackey and the two All-Stars, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders is more than solid, the combination of Jose Arredondo, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez have been nails finishing off games.

With the addition of Mark Teixeira hitting in front of Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels now have the best 1-2 punch of any playoff bound team. Managers will not be able to pitch around Vladdy this year. Also, Guerrero will not feel the pressure to be “the man” this post-season like he has in the past. Vladdy will have help and not just from Teixeira. Torii Hunter is a career .300 hitter in the post-season. Howie Kendrick has another year under his belt and has vastly improved his production with runners in scoring position (.409, 1.010 OPS). Garret Anderson is having another big second half of the season and a reoccurrence of an October bout of “pink eye” is highly unlikely. Juan Rivera is healthy and productive who can provide power batting lower in the lineup.

The Angels have a deep roster and they have won 71 games for a reason. When it comes to the post-season, this writer firmly believes the only team that can beat the Angels is the Angels. If they take it “one game at a time”, “square up some balls” and “execute their pitches”, this team will go far in October.
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